Tolerance Quilt (Grade 5)

3, 4, 5

Students read stories about caring for others, then they create quilts to donate to community organizations.

PrintOne 45 minute class period

The learner will:

  • read about and discuss slavery.
  • discuss the importance of giving.
  • experience service by making and donating a tolerance quilt to demonstrate the importance of diversity and sensitivity.
  • read-aloud copy of Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson
  • 30 fleece squares (10" x 10")
  • scissors
  • fabric markers
service: to provide a community or organization with something that it needs
donate: to give or present something, especially to a charitable organization or other good cause
immigrant: somebody who has come to a country and settled there
emigrate: to leave a place, especially a native country, to go and live in another country

Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Dragonfly Books, 1995. ISBN: 978-0679874720


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Ask for volunteers to recall details from the book Martin's Big Words read in Lesson One. Tell the students that discrimination against African Americans has its roots in slavery. Ask them to share what they know about slavery in the United States prior to the Civil War. Clarify and augment the information they share.

  2. Read aloud or ask for student volunteers to read aloud to the class Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Facilitate a discussion about the importance of helping others. Ask:

    • What prompted Clara to sew her freedom quilt?
    • What was so important about the design of the quilt?
    • How did Clara make a difference in the lives of others?
  3. Compare and contrast Martin’s Big Words to Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt. Ask:

    • What does Clara have in common with Martin Luther King, Jr.?
    • How did Clara and Martin Luther King, Jr. inspire others to stand up for their freedom?
  4. Tell the students that both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Clara were people of action. Ask students to brainstorm about ways that they can take action to improve their communities and world.

  5. Ask students whether anyone knows what it means to “immigrate” and “emigrate.” Explain to the students that “immigrate” means to move to a new country and “emigrate” means to leave one country to live in another. The United States is a country that has been settled by people from all over the world—from the Native Americans who arrived over 10,000 years ago from North Asia, to more recent immigrants who have arrived from countries such as Mexico, China, and the Philippines. Everyone’s family immigrated to the United States from another part of the world at some point in history.

  6. Explain to students that there are many factors that influence an individual or a group of people to leave their country to resettle in another. Voluntary immigrants—immigrants who have chosen to leave their country of their own free will—primarily immigrate to find better economic opportunities. In contrast, immigrants that are forced to leave their country due to events beyond their control, e.g., war, slavery, discrimination, etc., are called involuntary immigrants. Ask students to determine whether they believe Clara’s family and other slaves in Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt were voluntary or involuntary immigrants to the United States? Why?

  7. Explain to students that they will decorate quilt squares and join them together to create quilts and donate them to community organizations.

  8. Remind students that in Martin’s Big Words,they learned that one person can make a difference through service. In Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt, they learned that one person’s determination and spirit can impact others. Just as Clara demonstrated her kindness by helping others, students will demonstrate the importance of diversity appreciation, sensitivity, and understanding by making and donating a tolerance quilt.

  9. Review the concept of philanthropy -- giving time, talent, and treasure and taking action for the common good -- and ask students to brainstorm people that they have shared with before. Explain to students that they will now practice giving and sharing again by decorating individual fleece squares, combining them to make a quilt, and then donating them to an individual or a group of their choice.

  10. Give each student one fleece square. They need scissors and fabric markers.Tell the students the squares will be tied together, so they should leave a 2-inch border and draw in the center of the square.

  11. Have students draw and write positive messages on the square that promote diversity awareness and appreciation. Examples for messages include “Let’s All Get Along!” or “Diversity Makes the World a Better Place,” or “Let’s Learn from Others!” Students may wish to draw messages or pictures in pencil first and then go over them in marker to present a clearer image and neater product.

  12. After your students have finished their square, they use the scissors to cut uniform 2-inch slits about 1 inch apart on all sides of each square.They cut a square out of each corner. Use the fringe to tie all of the squares together. One large quilt or several small quilts can be assembled from the squares.

  13. Brainstorm with students places to donate their quilt(s), helping students to choose people that might often be overlooked. (Students may wish to donate their quilt to the classroom, but it may be better to give their quilt to the school, a library, a homeless shelter, or a hospital.) Talk to students about what groups of people may benefit from the gift.

  14. After the quilts are completed, donate them to the chosen recipients. Be sure to take pictures (if appropriate) for lasting memories.

  15. Reflection is a key component of service-learning that adds meaning to the experience. Ask students how they felt about donating their quilt and how they think others felt receiving it. Discuss with students why doing this project was important. Ask students to fill in the blanks to this statement: Today I hope to learn _________________________________

Cross Curriculum 

The students create and and donate a "tolerance" quilt.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.I Definitions of Philanthropy
    1. Standard DP 01. Define Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Define philanthropy as the giving and sharing of time, talent, or treasure intended for the common good.
    2. Standard DP 02. Roles of Government, Business, and Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.6 Explain why acting philanthropically is good for the community, state, nation, or world.
  2. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 06. Philanthropy in History
      1. Benchmark E.2 Give an example of an individual who used social action to remedy an unjust condition.
      2. Benchmark E.5 Identify positive philanthropic historic acts or events that helped build the community, state, and nation.
  3. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark E.1 Describe one reason why a person might give or volunteer.
  4. Strand PHIL.IV Volunteering and Service
    1. Standard VS 01. Needs Assessment
      1. Benchmark E.1 Identify a need in the school, local community, state, nation, or world.
    2. Standard VS 03. Providing Service
      1. Benchmark E.1 Provide a needed service.
    3. Standard VS 05. Integrating the Service Experience into Learning
      1. Benchmark E.3 Identify outcomes from the service.